“W. Carl Burger: The Urge to Paint,” an exhibition that is currently at the Morris Museum in Morris Township, has a perfect title, because when you look at its works, you really feel that urge — the colors burst out from Burger’s canvases, as if they possess an uncontrollable force. They have motion, and a touch of wildness.
“A good watercolor should look like it’s just been done — like a fresh salad,” says Burger, in a quote that is prominently displayed as part of the exhibition. “If you fool around with it too long it becomes wilted.”
Take Burger’s 2001 painting “Ground Zero” (above), for instance, where an American flag waves boldly over a scene of destruction and reconstruction. Or his 2007 “Turnpike #2, Jersey City” (below),which has a sense ofchaotic bustle, but also of strength and determination, with the road rising out from the land to make its way over the river. Or his 1944 “Clock Tower at Rouen, Normandy, France” (at bottom)—painted just three weeks before the Invasionof Normandy— with its sense of Old World opulence and grandeur, still beautiful but almost disintegrating, right before your eyes.
The museum has one of the world’s largest collection of Burger paintings, and this exhibition features more than 30 works, spotlighting his interest in landscape and nature — many of the works were inspired by scenes in western New Jersey — as well as his fascination with architectural forms.
Where the subject of his painting is natural or man-made, though, there is a similar spirit to them.
“People tell me there’s a life and energy in my paintings that excites them, that they never tire of,” Burger told the Daily Record of Morristown, in a recent interview.
“That’s because I love it — the best part of painting is while actually doing it.”
Burger — who is now 90, and lives in Califon — was born in Pforzheim, Germany, but his family moved to New Jersey when he was very young. He studied at Rutgers University, as well as Columbia University and NYU, and was on the faculty at Kean University in Union for 40 years, before retiring in 1993.
The exhibition — part of the museum’s “longstanding tradition of spotlighting the creativity and talents of New Jersey artists,” in the words of its executive director, Linda Moore — will be on display until March 27.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., as well as from 5 to 8 p.m. on the second and third Thursday of every month.
For information, visit morrismuseum.org.